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UW-Eau Claire Professor Participates
In Research Project in Israel
MAILED: Sept. 2, 1999|
This summer a remote cave in Israel was the site of an archeological dig that helped researchers including a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire associate professor better understand how the caves were used by the people who inhabited them years ago.
"We were trying to find artifacts and put together a story of what the people were doing in the cave," Dr. Harry Jol, an associate professor of geography, said of the 14-person expedition. "We were just trying to find out anything we could."
The team spent two weeks working in the remote Cave of Letters near the Dead Sea in Israel, where researchers tried to find artifacts dating back to Biblical times. Researchers from the University of Nebraska at Omaha led the team to the abandoned cave, which is believed to hold significant items from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem destroyed by the Romans in the year 70.
In 1996, Richard Freund, the former chairman of UNO's department of philosophy and religion and current director of the Bethsaida Excavation Project at the University of Hartford in Connecticut, was excavating the city of Bethsaida, which lays two miles north of the Sea of Galilee. The 1996 excavation of Bethsaida the New Testament city where it's said that Jesus fed the multitudes, healed a blind man and near its shores, walked on the waters led to the discovery of an incense shovel.
Through his research, Freund found that several similar shovels and other artifacts were found in the Cave of Letters 38 years ago by Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin, who led an expedition to the Cave of Letters in 1960-61.
Based largely on Freund's research, a theory has evolved suggesting that about 100 years after the death of Jesus the Romans drove the Jews out of Jerusalem, taking over that city, including the Holy Temple. In spite of their efforts to fight back, the Jewish people were forced to take refuge in the Judean caves along the Dead Sea, Jol said. They brought back with them artifacts used for temple rituals and hid them here hoping to replace them upon regaining the temple. It's theorized that both the incense shovel found at Bethsaida and those found in the Cave of Letters were from this time period, Jol said.
This summer's expedition was the first official archaeological probe of the cave authorized by the Israeli government since 1961, Jol said.
The 1999 team used a ground-penetrating radar system and an endoscope an instrument used to view into the human body to map and excavate a portion of the Cave of Letters.
"There are three chambers to the cave: A, B and C. In 1953 and 1960-61, a lot of the A and C chambers were excavated," Jol said. "For the most part, A and C are completely excavated so this group focused on chamber B."
Jol was in charge of the ground-penetrating radar during the summer expedition.
"I received an e-mail asking for recommendations on the familiarity of using ground-penetrating radar methods to explore the subsurface of the caves in Israel," said Jol, explaining how he was introduced to the project. "I e-mailed back my suggestions and jokingly noted at the end that if they needed me to come with I'd be willing."
Much to his surprise, Jol was then invited to become a co-investigator of the project.
Jol's main job was to give a framework of where the archeologists should probe for artifacts in the cave, based on the information acquired from ground-penetrating radar.
"The cave is 90 feet by 60 or 70 feet, and that's way too big of an area to just start digging it all up so a map needed to be made," Jol said. "With the radar, I am able to send FM radio waves in to the ground, which resembles an X-ray of the ground. From the resulting profiles, I was able to see different layers under the rocks."
The readings indicated that the cave contains several layers because of the ceiling collapsing from earthquakes, meaning more artifacts from earlier occupants may be buried farther down. The radar survey also directed probing to locations where similar rocks could actually be lifted, Jol said, noting that much of the cave floor contains large rocks.
What the researchers found were artifacts such as coins, linens, pottery and ropes that date back to 100 years after the time of Jesus.
UNO filmed the expedition with the intent of turning it into a documentary. "Discovery, National Public Television and the History Channel have all shown interest," Jol said of the planned documentary.
Archeologists in Israel are examining the artifacts to determine if additional expeditions to the Cave of Letters would be worthwhile. The project results will be presented Nov. 11-14 at the Biblical Archaeology for the 21st Century conference at UNO.
"This is the best expedition I've been on in regard to solving a problem that will affect a lot of people," Jol said.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Sept. 2, 1999